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City will negotiate lease for corporate hangar at airport
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In an effort to address a lack of hangar space at the Dillant-Hopkins Airport, the city of Keene has agreed to negotiate a lease with a local developer who is interested in constructing a corporate-sized aircraft hangar at the Swanzey facility.

On Thursday, the Keene City Council unanimously voted to direct City Manager Elizabeth Dragon to work out an agreement with Avanru Development, which is based in Walpole, to build a 12,000-square-foot hangar. Airport Director David Hickling said the project would provide in-demand space for area pilots looking for somewhere local to house their planes.

“We have a great airport here in the community, and that’s being shown because we have a lot of people that want to base their airplanes here,” Hickling told the council’s Planning, Licenses and Development Committee in late August. “We actually have a hangar shortage and a lot of people waiting to get in here.”

Hickling said a number of people have recently expressed interest in building hangar space at the airport, and the proposal from Avanru President and CEO Jack Franks is the first one to be brought to the council for consideration. Avanru also has a pair of 42-unit apartment buildings in the works for Route 10 in Swanzey.

Hickling said the proposed airport hangar would allow the airport to accommodate larger jets.

Asked how many planes the hangar would be able to accommodate, Franks said it depends on the size of the plane but noted that the structure will be designed to hold a wide variety of aircraft, including helicopters.

Franks, who did not speak at either the August PLD Committee meeting or Thursday’s council meeting, told The Sentinel Sunday that he has a background in aviation as well as property development. He said he is a pilot and that he attended Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, which has main campuses in Daytona Beach, Fla., and Prescott, Ariz.

Avanru Development is growing, Franks said, and he soon plans to expand his operation into neighboring states, which he says will increase the need for air travel. The idea is to use the new hangar for his company’s needs, while also making space available to others, he explained.

“The game plan is to build a hangar to serve as the base of operations for our development company,” he said, “but also to serve the needs of transient aircraft that would frequent the [airport].”

Franks said he’s aware of the hangar shortage in the area and that it has been an issue for quite a while. He added that he’s excited to work with city officials on a project that he says will benefit not only his company and the city but the rest of the community as well.

The new hangar will be built adjacent to the terminal, he noted, in the vicinity of the airport’s existing hangars.

During the PLD Committee meeting, where members unanimously voted to recommend that the council agree to the lease proposal, Councilor Mitch Greenwald noted that he is the council’s representative on the city’s Airport Development and Marketing Committee, which he said supports the lease proposal.

Councilor Philip Jones noted that the project would have a positive economic effect, saying it would lead to more planes being registered at the airport and more fuel and services being sold at the airport. The lease itself also provides additional revenue for the city.

“As long as I’ve been on the council, one of our goals was always to get taxpayer subsidizing of the airport down,” Jones said on Thursday. “And this is a good step towards that.”

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Keene Music Festival returns on a bustling downtown Saturday
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At 11 a.m. Saturday, Jess Hutchins sat down in a wooden chair in Keene’s Central Square gazebo, guitar in hand, and began to play.

Flanked by fellow Nelson residents Geoff Williams and Mark Grover, the trio performed Hutchins’ original song “Dream with Me,” the first tune of the Keene Music Festival in two years, after the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancelation of last year’s event. The three have been playing together for about a year, but Saturday marked their first public gig, an experience Hutchins said was exciting, if a bit nerve-racking.

“I’m excited, though,” she said. “Like I said, we’ve been working on this for a year. We haven’t really shared a lot of this with anybody. So this is kind of our debut.”

As they played, a crowd gradually grew to about 20 people. Pablo Fleischmann, the festival’s director, was among them, and said he relished being able to bring the event back to downtown.

“It’s fantastic,” said Fleischmann, a Marlow resident who owns Green Energy Options in Keene. “... It’s my favorite day of the year in downtown Keene. To walk around and hear live music just emanating from all over is just a beautiful thing.”

Fleischmann has been involved with the festival since its inception in 2000, he said, and has worked with a small group of volunteers to keep it going over the years. This year, a group of six organized the Keene Music Festival, which they initially planned to be a scaled-down affair, Fleischmann said.

“Originally, when we were planning this, there was a full-fledged pandemic, and just barely vaccinations going on,” he said. “So, we said, ‘Well, why don’t we just do three stages and a few bands?’ And the bands, when we put it out to the band population, everyone was just so excited to play, it turned into pretty much a typically normal-sized event.”

From 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., 52 artists played across seven stages throughout downtown: at Railroad Square, Miller Brothers Alley, Lamson Street, the Central Square gazebo, City Tire, The Toadstool Bookshop and the Monadnock Food Co-Op amphitheater. One of those musicians, Ian Galipeau of Keene, said it felt great to play his acoustic indie folk music for a live, outdoor audience again.

“This weather is perfect,” he said after wrapping up an hourlong set at the Monadnock Food Co-Op. “It feels wonderful to be playing again. I took most of the last year off, like pretty much every musician. And it’s just great to be able to see live music and to have a crowd without being afraid, or feeling like you’re compromising the health of yourself or your community.”

Bruce Elliot, a Keene resident who played tenor saxophone Saturday with local rock band Blue Motel, said pent-up desire for live music throughout the pandemic makes events like the festival even sweeter.

“It’s like it’s even better than before, because having that break, it sort of gave everyone a fresh start,” Elliot said after the band’s performance on Railroad Square. “So I think everyone’s got a lot of energy and enthusiasm for it. And that feels really good.”

Shortly after Blue Motel ended its set Saturday afternoon, six-year-old Violet Deaver sat in the shade of a nearby tree, enjoying a pumpkin muffin from The Works Café with family friend Amy Trippodi. They were “out and about doing stuff,” Violet said, and decided to stop and catch a few musical acts, including a punk rock band and an acoustic guitarist.

“We’ve heard a little bit of music from a few bands, and I’ve liked it so far,” Violet said.

“And I was telling Violet, this is something that we look forward to every year,” Trippodi added. “It’s Art in the Park and the Keene Music Festival. They’re just really great community events. And I think everybody’s ready to be outside in nice weather, listening to great music.”

The Keene Music Festival was one of several events on a bustling Saturday downtown. Art in the Park, organized by the Monadnock Area Artists Association, returned to Ashuelot River Park Saturday and Sunday. Nearby, the Keene Farmers’ Market drew a crowd for its regular hours on Gilbo Avenue.

For Jayna Leach, a Keene resident who studies violin at the Boston Conservatory at Berklee, the confluence of events is a highlight of the whole year in the Elm City.

“I just so happened to be here this weekend,” she said. “I was in Boston yesterday, and I had a gig that canceled, so I decided to come up for this because I love this. And it’s also Art in the Park weekend, so it’s my favorite weekend in Keene, and I’m never here for it.”

As an artist herself, Leach said the weekend holds special interest but also serves as an opportunity to catch up with old friends.

“I love anything that Keene has, any community stuff,” she said. “It’s great to see everybody coming out, just people that I wouldn’t normally see anyways. And I love especially that [the music festival is] happening all the way down [Main Street], so you get one thing, and then you get another thing everywhere else, and it keeps changing.”

Throughout the day, hundreds of people strolled down Main Street, which Fleischmann, the festival director, said also helps promote downtown businesses.

“We’ve settled in on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend mostly to help the downtown merchants, which, I think it helps them,” he said, noting that the music festival kept its tradition this year of excluding outside vendors to keep the spotlight on local shops and restaurants.

Tim Pipp, owner of Beeze Tees Screen Printing on Main Street, said the music festival certainly provided a boost for his business, especially after the coronavirus pandemic led to slower foot traffic throughout most of the past year and a half.

“And now we’re drawing people from out of town, we’re drawing people from the college — parents and alumni,” Pipp said. “So on these weekends where there’s events going on, we’re seeing a real influx of walk-by traffic and walk-in traffic. It’s definitely benefiting us, and I know just talking to a lot of other businesses, it’s increasing our sales.”

Census data shows that children make up the most diverse part of the state’s population

When Eva Castillo came to the United States from her home country of Venezuela, she wasn’t planning to stay. But life happened. She met her husband, a Manchester native, and over the years the city has become her home.

Castillo has been working for decades to help other immigrants who come to the state feel at home here, too — now as the director of the New Hampshire Alliance for Immigrants and Refugees.

It turns out that’s no easy task — but it may be more important than ever.

Recent census data shows that the state is diversifying fast. For the first time, less than 90 percent of New Hampshire residents are white; in the past 10 years alone, the percentage of white residents has dropped from 94 percent to 87 percent.

And among the child population in the state, the shift is even more dramatic. New Hampshire’s population of minority children has grown by almost 50 percent, or about 16,800 more children of color between 2010 and 2021. Now, minorities make up 20.2 percent of the population under 18. In Nashua and Manchester, that number is over 30 percent.

“The most diverse part of the population is the youngest part of the population,” said UNH demographer Ken Johnson. That trend is true across the country. For now, New Hampshire remains one of the whitest states in the nation, but if the population continues to grow, it is minorities who will likely be driving that growth.

Most of New Hampshire’s modest growth over the past decade came from migration — although it is unknown how much of that is due to people coming from other countries versus people moving to New Hampshire from other states. Johnson said he’ll be watching for that data.

For Castillo, the news that the state is diversifying is exciting, but it also means there’s a lot of work to be done.

“It’s a systemic issue across the board that people are not ready to see us as equals,” Castillo said. A big source of frustration, she said, is that immigrants who come with college degrees from another country are still only able to land jobs doing menial work.

“They still have the image that we come here needy, that we’re unprepared, and people won’t give you the chance to get a professional job,” she said.

Manchester, where Castillo has lived since 1982, is among the state’s cities with the most diversity, along with Nashua. The census data shows areas of the Seacoast and Grafton County diversifying as well, so some pockets of the state are becoming more diverse than others, a trend that Johnson said tracks nationally. Castillo said this is reflected in her work as well, attributing it to families and communities using word of mouth, which can draw newcomers to already diverse areas where they may have a family member.

For Castillo, the state’s growing diversity means education is especially important — and she said things like the recently passed and hotly debated divisive concepts legislation are barriers to frank conversations in schools about diversity and inclusion.

Ronelle Thsiela was in middle school when her family moved to New Hampshire from Atlanta. As a Black student in the Manchester public school system, she said there weren’t a lot of teachers who looked like her. That made school hard in surprising ways — like accessing higher level classes.

“It’s really difficult to be a Black student in the Manchester School District,” she said. In part, she attributes that to policies like the presence of school resource officers, which she saw as more harmful to students of color than to white students.

Thsiela, who went on to be a co-founder of the Manchester chapter of Black Lives Matter, described a friend’s experience showing up to a higher-level class for which he was enrolled and having the teacher tell him he was in the wrong class.

“There was nothing to differentiate between him and other students except for the color of his skin,” Thsiela said.

Thsiela said the news of a diversifying New Hampshire means the state needs to look at policies that will make the state a good home for people of color. While she welcomes the change, it also brings some worries about what it will mean for the ongoing fight for racial justice in the state — like a prison population that is already disproportionately made up of people of color.

She’s now in her first year of law school at the UNH campus in Concord. There, too, she’s noticed how few faculty of color there are.

That problem — the lack of diversity among teachers Thsiela encountered in both high school and law school — is one that Pawn Nitichan has long been working to address. Nitichan, who moved to the United States from her home country of Thailand, is the executive director of City Year, an organization that brings teachers with diverse backgrounds to Manchester.

“One of the things that we can do, based on research, is to ensure that we have greater representations of adults in school,” Nitichan said. “Students do better when they have adults that they can relate to.”

Nitichan said that means recruiting more diverse talented teachers and school administrators for schools that have more diverse student populations. Right now, she estimates that anywhere from 75 to 85 percent of the people who serve in City Year are coming from out of state. Her hope is that the program can successfully create a pipeline so these young teachers will stay.

Having diverse teachers is just one piece of a bigger education puzzle that includes things like curricular considerations and professional development for teachers, but Nitichan says it’s a complicated piece, in part because the student population is more diverse than the general population.

That’s reflected in the latest census data as well. Johnson, the demographer with UNH, explained that the reason the percentage of minority children has gone up is because there are fewer white children — down by 19 percent from 2010.

The census data is also important for understanding civic engagement. A recent Civic Health Index released by the Carsey School of Public Policy at UNH found that New Hampshire ranked in the bottom five in the nation when it comes to interaction with people of a different racial or ethnic background.

“We’re very siloed in homogeneous ways,” said Quixada Moore-Vissing, one of the co-authors of the index. “In New Hampshire, we’re not interacting with people outside of our racial and ethnic backgrounds, and that was a concern for us for a variety of reasons.”

The index also found important correlations between race and both health and income.

“The paychecks of African Americans in New Hampshire are 39 percent smaller than those of whites, one of the largest income gaps among the 50 states,” according to the index. And around 15 percent fewer African Americans have a bachelor’s degree compared to the state’s white population.

NH slips in rankings of vaccinated residents

New Hampshire is falling behind several other states in the pace of first shots administered for COVID-19. According to CDC data, New Hampshire is now 14th in the country in the percent of residents with at least one vaccination dose. That’s down from 6th place earlier this summer.

Many of the states that have surpassed New Hampshire are taking a more aggressive approach to vaccination. Some have required that public employees be vaccinated or submit to regular testing. Others have offered large financial incentives.

The state of California will require vaccines for people attending large events. In New York, community groups are going door to door in areas with low vaccination rates. And New York City is requiring at least one dose of the vaccine for indoor dining and gyms.

New Hampshire has taken a different approach, leaving vaccine mandates to private businesses, and passing a law that says the vaccine cannot be required to access public benefits and services.

The state continues to hold mobile clinics, which will continue into the fall, and the vaccine is available at more than 500 locations.